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The role of power in relationships; othello

Power in Othello

on 9 June 2014

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Transcript of The role of power in relationships; othello

The role of power in relationships; Othello
Gender in Othello
Race in Othello
Act 4. Scene 1.
Act 1. Scene 1.
Shakespeare's Othello continues to engage audiences through its dramatic treatment of the role of power in relationships. William Shakespeare's Othello was written in the Elizabethan era, but is still studied and regarded as a classic literary text. This is as a result of the timeless themes which reinforce power as a major role in relationships. Themes such as 'Gender', 'Racism' and 'Socioeconomic status' are all conveyed in the play in order to show what role power plays in a relationship. 'Differences in race, gender and class suggest that Venetian society consists of both empowered and dis-empowered groups.' Shakespeare's play demonstrates these contextual concerns, as well as engaging the audience. Although this text has been studied, and interpreted a vast majority of times, this presentation will consist of my interpretation and understanding of Othello, and the role of relationships depicted throughout the text.
This image shows Othello and Desdemona in love
Information about Othello
Full title:




Social class and Socioeconomic status
Life in the Elizabethan era was highly orientated around social class. It was believed that god formed a world of order, and formed these social ranks. Of course the monarch being the highest, and wealthiest, followed by nobility, gentry, merchants, yeomanry, and finally the laborers. There were orders of which rank can wear what clothing, and was seen as disobedient if the poor wore clothes of the rich. There were laws about food, beverages, furniture, jewellery and clothing. These laws were put into place to ensure the class structure was maintained, and to easily identify which class an individual belonged to. Basically the structure went like this:
The Monarch- Queen Elizabeth (who ruled for 45 years)
Nobility- Rich and powerful men and knights
Gentry- Knights, squires, gentlemen and gentlewomen who didn't work with their hands for a living
Merchant- people who worked in trade, especially of wool
Yeomanry- Farmers, tradesmen, and craft workers (People who weren't poor, but at any moment could be)
Laborers- People who worked with heir hands (were poor)
As you can clearly see, those who were wealthier, had more power and sat on the top of society, where as the poorer an individual got, the lower their rank in society.
Gender in Othello
Although it is important to note Othello was not set in England, there is still a very strong form of hierarchy in this play. Keeping in mind that class in Elizabethan society was highly based on birth and descent, it was very rare that one would be able to advance into a higher class. Iago is clearly of a lower class, which is shown through his wife. Iago's wife, Emilia, is Desdemona's attendant. She is always around her filling commands, and even bathes her. Iago's way into a higher social class was to be given a higher rank in the army, which was instead given to Cassio. Iago says "I know my price, I am worth no worse a place." which means "And I know my own worth well enough to know I deserve that position." This clearly shows Social status to be one of the major themes in this play. The reason Iago went through the whole scheme he created was out of anger and jealousy, that he did not get the chance to be a part of the higher class, and army rank. Othello holds a high social standing, both socially and in the army. Despite his race, Othello is respected by many of the men as a highly ranked soldier. As i have previously stated, social class in Othello causes a lot of conflict . All the characters in Othello are affected by this social class, and have to work hard to maintain their social standing. For example, Cassio had to try very hard to maintain his rank, against Iago's scheme. Hence showing that where an individual stood in social class highly affected their power. Those who were in higher ranking, for example Othello, had more power than those in a lower ranking, for example Iago.
Although Othello was written during the Elizabethan Era, in approximately 1603 in England, this is not where or when it was set. Othello was set in the late 16th century, during the wars between Venice and Turkey. In act 1, it was set in Venice, but then continued in the island of Cyprus. During this period of time, gender was a major role in society. Gender roles are a set of social and behavioral expectations, determining the way an individual should think, speak, act, dress and interact within society. Although men and women are now considered equal, it was not always this way. If you were a man, you were considered to be superior, masculine, powerful, and it was their job to provide for his family. If you were a woman on the other hand, it was your job to cook, clean, and bear children. They were the property of men;their father, brothers, and husband, and were expected to be feminine, gentle, and conservative. Not only this, but women had less rights, they were not able to call a divorce, everything they once owned belonged to their husband, and men had a lot more of a say.
Venice and Cyprus
There are only three female characters in Othello; Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca. The way that these women behave and are portrayed is no doubt a reflection of the Elizabethan era's gender expectations. These women are portrayed to be gentle, feminine, and respectful of men. The relationships these women have with men portray the importance of gender role in Othello.
One of the most important relationships is that of Desdemona, Othello and Iago. When Iago informs Othello of his belief that Desdemona has a 'thing' for Cassio, gender roles play a very big part in this conflict. It becomes clear that the difference in gender has a major effect on the perspective of who is telling the truth. Despite not hearing Desdemona's side of the story, Othello grows furious from the false information Iago feeds him. Othello's love for Desdemona creates a jealousy, and fury which leads him to kill her. Despite her constant debate, insisting she does not know what he is talking about, Othello takes Iago's side. Why? This is what I'd like to ask. Despite his love for Desdemona, Othello listens to the man, without even giving the woman a chance to speak in defence of herself. This clearly demonstrates the say men had, and their superiority. This can be contrasted with Othello being given a chance to defend himself in front of his superiors. When he eloped with Desdemona, he was given a say, and a chance to speak his side, Desdemona was not. Act 3, scene 3, page 21, Othello says "Damn her, lewd minx! Oh, damn her, damn her! Come, go with me apart. I will withdraw. To furnish me with some swift means of death.For the fair devil. Now art thou my lieutenant." In modern English this would translate to "Damn her, the wicked whore! Oh, damn her, damn her! Come away with me. I’m going inside to think up some way to kill that beautiful devil. You’re my lieutenant now" This proves my point in saying Othello believed everything Iago had told him, and let his jealousy take control. The quote above shows that men were believed more than women. Women had less of a say, and were seen to be less superior to men. Thus showing, gender is one of the power roles in a relationship in Shakespeare's Othello.
Race is another power in a relationship depicted in Othello. Belonging to a specific race or ethnic group could limit an individuals rights and freedom. During the time period in which Othello was written, race dictated the role which you played within society. Those who were not of white skin, or of European decent were not considered important, and were treated with less respect. The growth in these foreigners populations frightened some, and others simply believed that they were better than those of darker skin colours. There were many negative views towards "black people", and many people believed those of a dark skin colour should not live among the rest. Shakespeare both contrasts and demonstrates racial roles during the Elizabethan era. Othello was a highly ranked army general, which gave him a lot of power. This contrasts the reality of darker skinned people being poor, and treated unequally. Othello is given high ranking in the army, but despite this is not completely treated equally. His role as a black-skinned foreigner exposes him to derogatory racism, and racial comments. This could be shown in the scene where Brabantio (Desdemona's father) is furious at their marriage, and accuses Othello of making her love him through trickery and which craft. "O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter? Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!" This quote, which was too long to put all of it in, was what Brabantio accused Othello of doing. In modern english his dialogue is "You evil thief, where have you hidden my daughter? You devil, you’ve put a spell on her! Anybody with eyes could tell you that a beautiful and happy young girl like her, who’s refused to marry all of the handsome young men of the city, wouldn’t run off with a black thing like you unless she’d been bewitched. You’re something to fear, not to love. It’s obvious to everyone that you’ve tricked her, drugged her, or kidnapped her. That’s probably what happened, so I’m arresting you.—Arrest this man as a practitioner of black magic. Grab him. If he struggles, use force!" (sparknotes) This shows that one of the major reasons Brabantio was so against the marriage of his daughter to Othello, is the colour of his skin. Despite knowing Othello for a very long time, he refused to believe his daughter would fall in love with a dark coloured man, unless by witch craft. Not only this, but Othello is constantly called racial terms such as "moor", "thick lips", "old black ram', and "Barabry horse". These terms are thrown around at Othello as if he felt no emotion. This therefore shows that racism played a major role in the power one had in not only a relationship, but also within society. Although Shakespeare challenges the racial stereotype by placing Othello at such a high ranking, he also demonstrates racism in many forms.
Social class and Socioeconomic status in Othello
To conclude, it is clear that Shakespeare's Othello continues to engage audiences through its dramatic treatment of the role of power in relationships. Gender, Race and Social class all play a major role in the power an individual possesses in a relationship, and the effect it can have on their life. Othello clearly demonstrates these themes, and links them to the power and relationships throughout the play.

Iago and Othello
Othello as a play
The tragedy of Othello, the Moor of
William Shakespeare


Jealousy, love, hate, war, gender, race,
social class, and marriage.
Full transcript